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Philosophy of Education

The word education comes from the Latin verb educare, which means “to lead out or draw forth.” An underlying principle within educare—fundamental to Presidio Hill School's philosophy of education—is that children come to school with previously developed interests and skills. The task of the school is to know the child well and build on those interests and abilities, leading each child to ever-expanding circles of knowledge, responsibility, understanding, social competence and skill development.

Another key aspect of progressive education is encompassed by what John Dewey, a progressive educator at the turn of the last century, called “preparation for living in a democracy.” Under this umbrella falls our emphasis on social justice, inclusion and diversity, community service and global stewardship. Students are asked to show caring and compassion for others and learn to work in a cooperative environment, so much of the curriculum is focused on these issues.

At Presidio Hill, these tenets of progressive educational philosophy are embraced by a well-trained and exceptionally committed and creative faculty.

Tenets of educational philosophy

Educating the whole child

We are committed to educating the whole child. The keys to childhood happiness and adult success lie only partially in the cognitive domain. We work with the social and emotional elements of the child, helping to develop healthy social lives and the emotional intelligence necessary for a productive and fulfilling life.

Respecting developmental needs

We pay close attention to the developmental needs of our students. We reject the increasingly common practice of moving higher-level curriculum to lower grades in order to "speed up" the educational process, short-changing children and forcing them to memorize material truly beyond their deeper understanding. We believe the best preparation for a lifetime of learning is to follow the current developmental needs and interests of the child.

Focusing on understanding

More important than memorization is understanding. In a world of increasing and readily available information, understanding is far more important. With understanding, a student is able to be discerning and creative, make connections, and transfer information to new situations.


Encouraging active engagement

Children learn best when they are actively engaged. Dewey made famous the aphorism "children learn by doing." Engagement is fostered when the material being learned is meaningful, the teacher is enthusiastic and skilled, there is some fun involved, and the student has some choice.

Providing a safe environment

A safe environment—not only physically, but also emotionally and socially—is necessary for optimal learning. Students need to be able to take risks without fear of excessive critique or embarrassment. A corollary of this is that children often learn well from their mistakes and school should be an environment where those mistakes can be made and learned from.

Emphasizing process over product

The process is more important than the product. Product is inevitably involved, but our focus is on teaching children how to learn so that whatever they may encounter in life, they will be prepared to learn from it. When we work mathematically, for example, we ask our students, "How did you get that answer? What was your process?" And we ask the class, "Did anyone solve this a different way?" In doing so, we help our students develop a repertoire of problem-solving skills and a knowledge of how they learn best.

Teaching in integrated, thematic units

Our curriculum is based on integrated, thematic teaching and learning. Subjects are intertwined whenever possible, not divided or separate. A project may involve reading, writing, painting and public speaking. Or it might involve collecting scientific data, writing about it, drawing a graph and presenting it orally. This approach takes into account how the brain learns best—by making connections. These connections help the student retain material longer and apply it to more situations.

Learning in cooperative groups

Cooperative learning occurs in the youngest to oldest students. There is substantial research proving that students taught to learn cooperatively learn more, like school more, and even like their teachers more. Learning to work well with others is not only more enjoyable, but is a skill none of our graduates should be without.

Embracing diversity

Diversity prompts learning. When a child experiences another viewpoint, that child is challenged to explore his/her own point of view and potentially adapt it to reflect new understanding and acceptance of alternate viewpoints. Rubbing up against cultural, racial, economic, family structure or religious views that are not one's own creates growth in thinking and also empathy. Presidio Hill is proud of its role in promoting diversity in its immediate community and as part of the mosaic that is San Francisco.

Celebrating creativity

Creativity can and should be taught. Creativity is not just for some of us, nor is it just for art and music classes. Project work demands creativity. All the forms of self-expression we expect from children ask for their creativity. Further, the ability to use knowledge creatively, rather than just reproducing it, is the hallmark of a progressive education.

Creating community

The community of the school shapes thinking, feeling and behavior. Parents, teachers and fellow students all impact a child's development. Caring and compassionate community members with a common purpose create the environment in which we wish our children to grow.

Promoting freedom and responsibility

Freedom and responsibility are irrevocably linked. Responsibility does not stop when the students exit the school doors. Our students learn about their role as responsible citizens by becoming increasingly involved in their broader communities. They perform community service, become involved in causes for social justice, and do their part as stewards of the environment.

Offering a broad curriculum

We believe a broad liberal arts curriculum best serves a student's growth. We include art, music and performance/drama, as well as physical education and Spanish, as full-fledged components of the curriculum.

Fostering relationships

Learning is deepest and most lasting when grounded in relationships with others. Instead of a learning model that only encompasses a transfer of knowledge, relationships between teacher and student and student to student contextualize and deepen learning. These relationships provide learning with an emotional component that increases motivation and fosters enjoyment of the learning process.

Educating the heart and mind

We believe in educating the heart as well as the mind. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, we wish for our students to "do well by doing good."

Teaching at Presidio Hill School

Presidio Hill School teachers create a culture of expectation and inspiration for their students. They understand the inevitability of change and have in their power the ability to shape that change to the advantage of their students.  

Presidio Hill teachers also understand their responsibility to keep learning as they grow and develop alongside their students. We aspire to be not a community of the learned, but rather a community of learners. The teaching methodology is grounded in progressive tradition and includes the following elements:

Our teachers:

  • Make decisions with the child's best interests as the primary consideration.
  • Are constructivist in their orientation, believing the children need to construct their own meaning from the work at hand.
  • Create thematic, interdisciplinary units of study.
  • Teach a conceptual, problem-solving, visual, manipulative-based math program (TERC Investigations in the Lower School and CMP3 in the Middle School).
  • Teach reading from a balanced, whole language literature-based approach that incorporates phonics instruction in the early grades.
  • Use the "writing process" approach to teaching writing.
  • Create activities in which children actively "do" science (hypothesizing, collecting data, sharing information, experimenting) rather than merely reading about it.
  • Engage students in cooperative learning.
  • Use authentic assessment strategies such as portfolios, narrative reports, anecdotal record keeping, rubrics and demonstrations in order to track student learning. We do not give standardized tests to young children. Instead, we have benchmarks for every grade level and subject matter. These benchmarks form the skeleton of student achievement as they mature through the grades.
  • Create their own curriculum in collaboration with colleagues. We work largely without textbooks, and those that are in use do not drive the curriculum.
  • Are familiar with the use of technology and use it in developmentally appropriate ways with students. Teachers use technology, including the school's website, to communicate with parents.
  • Know something of modern brain research and its application to the classroom.
  • Plan and implement experiential education elements, closely tied to classroom curriculum. Possibilities include field trips, overnights, outdoor education, environmental education, service learning, and so on.
  • Engage students in questions and actions focused on environmental responsibility and stewardship.
  • Have an international, global perspective through travel, living abroad, reading, or other means.
  • Create multicultural units of study and model a respect for diversity and inclusion.
  • Know something of motivation and attribution theory and use this knowledge to create an ethos fostering intrinsic motivation.
  • Model and teach ethical values and character.